How to Crack the Code for B2B Product Marketing in a Digital World: Interview with Jeff Spicer

 
Glenn: Hi, everyone. I’m Glenn Gow, Founder & Advisor of Crimson Marketing. Welcome to Moneyball for Marketing where we talk about the incredible changes happening in marketing organizations around big data and marketing technology. We feature marketing technology insights from the top marketers in the world. The reference to Moneyball is from the story of how the Oakland A’s baseball team were able to win and win and win because they figured out how to use data and technology to their advantage. If you’d like to learn about how to use big data and marketing technology and marketing to help you win visit us at CrimsonMarketing.com or email us at info@CrimsonMarketing.com. And now on to our podcast.

Today I am very pleased to welcome Jeff Spicer. Jeff is Vice-President of Digital Marketing at VMware where he is responsible for VMware’s customer and parter facing digital channels and programs. His focus is to better align his channels with customer needs and expectations while simultaneously supporting corporate revenue targets and we’re going to talk about how Jeff does that today. Now, how does VMware describe themselves? VMware says they are the leading visualization software company and the VMware’s technology simplify IT complexity and streamline operations helping businesses become more agile, efficient, and profitable. So, Jeff, welcome. It’s very great to have you here.

Jeff: Thanks, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Glenn: So, Jeff, we were talking earlier about even in your description about meeting customer needs, about personalization as it relates to how you communicate digitally with prospects and customers. Tell us a little bit about your vision for that and where you’re taking VMware.

Jeff: Sure. Personalization is really interesting in the B to B space for a few reasons. First, I should mention that it’s very interesting to me how late B to B personalization is to the table when you think in terms of B to C, for example, we’ve had some form of personalization in B to C for about 15 years, but B to B personalization is a little bit more complex and sophisticated because the notion of the buyer in B to B is quite a bit different, it’s often not a single individual, most times it’s a buying unit.

So, to be able to personalize for every individual in the buying unit has been something that’s been beyond what most businesses are able to do, but I think personalization is really going to be key as we move forward in digital marketing because we know from different analyst reports and different agencies that more and more of B to B buying behavior is online and more and more of that buying behavior happens before the buyer ever gets in touch with the vendor. So, we have to make these digital experiences much more personalized and targeted if we expect to really rope in and speak to those B to B buyers.

Glenn: So, Jeff, I actually have a question for you, help us distinguish between targeting and personalization.

Jeff: That’s a really good question. The way that I define it, and this might be a little different than other people do, personalization or the way I’m talking about it right now is in the inbound space, so inbound marketing, that types of personalization whereas often targeting we think of outbound marketing channels or targeting different segments are audiences, but some of the technologies that have been introduced over the past couple of years allow us to inbound personalization to a degree that wasn’t previously possible.

So, if you think about your website, for example, it’s been possible to de-itemize your IP addresses for a while now, but those technologies, today’s technologies, go a step further beyond just looking at your IP addresses and helping you do much more sophisticated matching, cookie setting, and looking at buyer patterns and creating inbound personalized experiences.
Glenn: How much of that is trying to tie third party data with the information you might have about a visitor to your site if they haven’t registered with you yet?

Jeff: That’s really interesting and that’s kind of on the cutting edge of personalization right now. Again, personalization, rudimentary personalization beyond just the IP address look up would be asking somebody to log into your site, sign in, or fill in a form, and then you’d begin to understand who they are based on your relationship with them and progressive profiling or whatever it is that you want to do.

There are a host of new third party services now, though, that are looking at different types of propensity data and allowing you to consume that data in your inbound channels. So, you can begin to more completely personalize an inbound experience based on these third party data sources.

Glenn: Mm-hm. Do you have to have it registered on your website to attach that third party data or can you know enough about me before I get to that point in the buying cycle?

Jeff: Sure. In general, up until know you would need to do some sort of tagging on your site, a couple of the vendors that were starting to run pilots now though they’re becoming much more sophisticated in their use of big data for example. So, if you tell them the type of attributes that you’re looking for very loosely they can come up with more sophisticated models based on their understanding of big data and some of the other traditional data sources that they have access to, sot they’re able to put together much deeper propensity models than were previously able to do. Now, like I mentioned before, the really interesting thing to me will be connecting that propensity modelling with inbound visits so that you can begin to personalize that inbound visit from the very moment that somebody hits your website or a social channel.

Glenn: Talk about the social channel, Jeff. I know how that works on a website, tell us about how that works on social channels.

Jeff: Sure. There are some vendors emerging now that allow you to do the Omni-Channel personalization or the consistent Cross-Channel journey.

Glenn: Mm-hm.

Jeff: So, somebody visits your website and has a certain interaction with your content they may go away for a while and then visit a social channel of yours. What you’d like to be able to do is make that content experience consistent and additive so that instead of showing them the same content you’re showing them the next content in the sequence or content that might make sense based on some of their other behaviors. So, some of the technologies that we’re looking at right now allow you to create that Omni-Channel journey so that as someone travels across your website, as they interact with you on email, and then when they go to a social channel you can ensure that experience is as relevant to them as possible but also pushes them forward into their particular buyer journey.

Glenn: Well, I think that is really powerful because I think we’re all aware, all of the listeners are aware, of ad re-targeting where a company knows I visited their website so I see ads for them later on, but what you’re talking about is actually they know more than I just visited, they know something about me at the level of now they’re going to provide me with information based on what I’ve done on the website, not just because I visited but rather where I am in the buyer cycle if I’ve been able to give them that much information.

Jeff: Absolutely, and that’s sort of the goal here is to make the buyer journey as relevant as possible to the journey wherever that buyer happens to be. So, you’re entirely right, Glenn, it’s a step beyond what we think of as ad re-targeting. By the way, ad re-targeting itself has become much more sophisticated now. We’re all probably familiar with the actual content re-targeting that used to be reserved just for ad banners, but what we’re talking about in the context of an Omni-Channel journey is beyond just banner and display ads to actual content in the channel itself that helps guide the buyer and accelerate their journey.

Glenn: Well, I’m glad you brought that up. You and I also talked about this next topic which is one of my favorites which is once people understand how valuable it is to do personalization then they realize they have a content challenge because all of a sudden I have multiplied the number of different types of content or the way I present my content. How do you go about handling that?

Jeff: Yes, content strategy is absolutely key to accelerating a buyer journey or making the buyer journey as relevant as possible for the buyer. One of the first things I did when I came on board at VMware was to build a small content strategy team focused just on digital marketing. So, as you pointed out there is a ton of really good content that is created in marketing organizations and product marketing organizations; campaigns teams, field marketing, business units, all create really good content but by and large most of that content is used towards the end of the sales cycle or the bottom of the funnel. Most of that content is really good as converting a buyer, giving information on products, ROI calculators, that sort of content, but there is very little content that is useful at the top of the funnel or at the beginning of the buying cycle.

When you’re looking to do things like build a little bit of product awareness or generate some thought leadership for serious decisions likes to say, “Just watch the status quo.” So, I thought it was really important to bring on board a few seasoned content strategists and have them begin to look at the entire funnel and map content by persona across that entire buying journey.

Glenn: That’s great.

Jeff: Yes, yes, it is. And what we found is that there are gaps in our content maps, so right now we’re in the process of identifying where those gaps are and starting to fill them in so that we’ve got a more complete content based by our journey.

Glenn: Do you use any technologies to help you with that, Jeff?

Jeff: We do, we actually signed a license agreement for Kapost.

Glenn: Oh, sure.

Jeff: Yes, Kapost is one of those great little tools that helps you build out content marketing campaigns, map your content by intent, by persona, so it gives us a slightly more complete view of where the gaps in our content maps are.

Glenn: Okay. All right, great. Since we’re talking about using software tell us a little bit about your philosophy around pilots. I know you’re a fan of those.

Jeff: I am. I really like pilots and quick iterations. Pilots to me are really useful for a couple of reasons. First, they let you quickly test them of your assumptions about a program or a piece of technology rather than making a huge time investment. If you can figure out how to carve out a small pilot and test an assumption or a piece of technology you might fail more quickly, but that’s kind of the point. You can fail more quickly so you can move onto success, yes.

Secondly, it gives you better insight to your team and where your capabilities are and if you have got any gaps there, and that’s been enormously helpful to me as I’m shifting what it is my team is responsible for within VMware. There’s a lot of traditional change management that has to happen, but you get quick insight into your team by doing some of these pilots and that’s very helpful because then you can bring people along, look for additional training and so forth. So, I really like the idea of pilots and quick iterations.

Glenn: Yes, so you can pilot software, you can even pilot campaigns, right?

Jeff: We do. We’ve piloted a couple of campaigns in the last quarter. There is a campaign that we started piloting starting at the end of July and the idea there was to understand more quickly how some of the activities that we were looking to change within digital marketing might play out against some of our primary KPIs. So, for example, I was really interested in the digital marketing space and coming up with some KPIs that mapped directly to corporate revenue, things like getting our users into an online demo more quickly, getting them to download a product evaluation more quickly.

So, we put together a quick pilot project that allowed us to test the assumptions around some of our tactics that might get people into these high value activities more quickly and then begin to understand how these packets could be sequenced to drive that particular outcome. It’s been enormously successful in terms of giving us insight. The overall pilot in terms of driving people to these high value activities has only been moderately successful, but the learnings have made the entire pilot really worth while.

Glenn: Mm-hm. Right, there is a real theme in a lot of the marketers that we talk to about agile marketing and that is really what I’m hearing in what you’re doing. How can you do quick, short events or experiments, and learn from those, and then move on?

Jeff: It is. The only reason I hesitate to use the word agile is it does have a prescribed methodology to it which we’re not exactly following. We’re just trying to fail quickly, but in all seriousness what we’re doing is something like agile marketing or possible a little less sophisticated but the concepts are about the same.

Glenn: Well, Jeff, one of my favorite stories is we talked to the CMO of Lenovo and he told us about a campaign they ran. It turns out this happened to be in Indonesia and it happened to be on Facebook, but it could’ve been anywhere and it could’ve been on any channel, but his story was about how they watched their digital campaign in real time, and they tweaked it in real time, and he was so excited to say, “We could see what was working and what wasn’t and immediately make those changes,” as opposed to wait until they spent all the money and all that time, and they were very, very pleased with the results because it was almost like a live set of dials they were changing during the campaign itself.

Jeff: I think that is a great idea. One of the things I introduced along with some of the KPIs that I thought were really going to be relevant for digital marketing is the idea that we should be checking those KPIs on a weekly basis. We’re not quite doing it in real time, we don’t quite have the ability to do that, but at the end of every week we look at the list of high value activities and assets that we’re driving people toward. So, how many people this week did we get to register for product evaluation? How many people did we push into a hands-on lab and so forth.
Before this we were looking at those metrics maybe once a month or so. If you’re not looking at them at least weekly then you really can’t tell if the tactics that you’re executing or the sequence of tactics themselves is having that much impact in time to change them and really begin to improve, iterate and improve, on your activities.

Glenn: It’s great. I think some people don’t like doing it as frequently because you can’t actually measure the same ROI because you’ve actually modified the test in the middle, but if in fact you can show improvement I think then the ROA question is mute. It’s we made continual improvement throughout a certain time period, that’s what’s going to show a contribution to revenue.

Jeff: Absolutely, and that of course is the beauty of A-B-C testing. If you can keep a control group set aside somewhere then you’ve got something to test against. We don’t always have that luxury, but ideally that would be how you would run your campaign.

Glenn: One other point that the Lenovo CMO was that it’s much less expensive if you’re measuring your KPIs much more frequently because you’re just making relatively small investments, your pilots if you will, and therefore you can experiment more and everybody learns more.

Jeff: I completely agree, and it’s that second point that I find really compelling as well. When you’re going through a big shift in activities and objectives in a group traditional change management is important, but this idea that everybody can be learning and iterating together on a frequent basis, that is incredibly valuable to have your entire team iterating and learning together on a weekly basis, it just brings immense value and benefit to the team.

Glenn: It’s a nice cultural shift where everybody feels comfortable being in that learning mode. So, Jeff, let me ask you, we’re almost out of time here, but I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about what you see happening in the next year or so, what does the future hold for what you’re going to be doing at VMware?

Jeff: Sure, a couple of things. First, we talked a little bit about personalization and I see that really even becoming more critical over the next year, the personalization not just in our website, but like we talked about across all channels, that really, I think, is going to define technology leaders in the space of digital marketing from some of the digital followers.

Glenn: Mm-hm.

Jeff: The second thing is I do think we haven’t fully explored social yet. There was a big interest in social about three or four years ago and many companies were racing to figure out how to implement social in their marketing programs, how to link their social marketing to social sales, how to educate their sales teams on the best way to use social.

Glenn: Right.

Jeff: I think there was some really good work done, but a lot of those efforts became a little bit disconnected and the ROI wasn’t necessarily there for some organizations. I think you’ll probably see a return to social, at least we plan to in VMware, but a slightly more advanced look, advanced and realistic look at what social has to offer. So, instead of just trying to enable your inside sales teams with social, for example, I think we’ll get more sophisticated in helping those teams understand who the true influencers are in the buying unit and how to surround those influencers with content and then how to measure the activities that those influencers take part in in social. So, that’s where we’ll be putting a little bit more of our effort in the coming years. I think you’ll see those two things really begin to define VMware digital marketing in the next 12 months.

Glenn: Well, that will be fascinating to watch and I look forward to watching it, Jeff. Jeff, thank you so much. This has been extremely helpful. I really appreciate your contribution here.

Jeff: Thanks, it was my pleasure, Glenn.

Glenn: All right, we’ll talk to you soon. If you like this podcast please subscribe and rate us on iTunes and tell your friends about us. You can also go to our website, CrimsonMarketing.com, and sign up for our free monthly newsletter featuring the very best of our marketing insights, featured Moneyball for Marketing podcasts, and one of our favorite features called, “Bad Marketing,” or email me at info@CrimsonMarketing.com. Thanks for listening to Moneyball for Marketing from Crimson Marketing. Have a great week and let us know if we can help you in any way.