The Content Experiment: Interview with Rishi Dave

Interviewer: I’m here today with Rishi Dave, Executive Director of Digital Marketing at Dell. Rishi has been named a top digital marketer two years in a row by B2B magazine. So thank you for joining us Rishi.

Rishi: Thank you.

Interviewer: Today, were going to talk about how to tie content marketing to demand gen and the pipeline in the context of inbound marketing. But before we jump in, Rishi I want to ask you to tell us just a little bit about you and your goal at Dell.

Rishi: Sure. I’m the Executive Director of Digital Marketing here at Dell. I focus on driving Dell’s content strategy, social, mobile communities, as well as the lead gen funnel with a special focus on inbound globally here at Dell for all of Dell’s B2B business. And I also work a lot on how we digitally support Dell’s physical events.

Interviewer: Great, so why don’t we start at the strategic level Rishi and share with us a little bit about how you and Dell think about content marketing from a strategic point of view.

Rishi: We think of content marketing as a core part of how we drive our inbound lead generation funnel. And where content marketing plays is we want to make sure that we’re creating a content ecosystem of both content and the right content platforms so that when our customers are searching for content, regardless of who they are; so if they are a technical buyer or a business buyer, as well as where they are in the buying cycle, super early-stage exploration or already know what they want to buy, our content shows up. It draws them into our ecosystem and then we manage them through their buying journey to an eventual lead or off-line sale.

Interviewer: Great and you used the phrase I think “the content platform”. Can you talk a little bit about what you mean?

Rishi: Sure, so we think about – many people think about content and platform together. So they say okay what is my Twitter strategy, what is my Facebook strategy, what is my community strategy. Those are platforms. And so what we do is we say what is our content strategy regardless of platform? What type of content do we need? How do we make sure it hits early-stage content, late-stage content, as well as the people that we’re trying to connect with? And then we think about the platforms in which we place that content based on where those people are. So when I talk about platforms I mean things like we have our community platforms. So an example would be

Interviewer: Right.

Rishi: The community that we have with our technical customers.

Interviewer: Right.

Rishi: We have more content streaming type platforms. That is more strategic content and highly social and shareable content which is targeted towards an early-stage executive type buyer, as well as a kind of technical, geek type person. And that is our tech page 1 property which does that. That is another platform. And then obviously we’re using all the usual suspects of social platforms to amplify all that content for the purpose of bringing people into our ecosystem of platforms that we own so that we can move them through that process and convert them to a lead.

Interviewer: Wow, okay so I get it and it raises a few questions I’d like to ask you. One has to do with leading people back to a certain place you want them to be and what you want to do with that. And the other has to do with I’ll call it repurposing content. In other words, you’ve developed some content, but based on the nature of the audience or the platform that you are delivering it through, you might have to provide them with something different, so for example a podcast versus a YouTube video. So my question is first, talk about leading people to a certain place and how does content help you do that; from Facebook to for example. And then talk a little bit about how different types of content can be repurposed to help you do that.

Rishi: Absolutely, so from our perspective new customer acquisition is core to what we’re trying to do nowadays. So new customers, to acquire them versus the traditional way of us pushing a lot of messaging and pushing a lot of banners and doing a lot of outbound physical calling and all that; we’re recognizing that all types of customers, especially the ones who may not have interacted with Dell doing research on the web, searching on the web, using their influences etc. So what we try to do to increase the number of new contacts in our database that we can again nurture and convert to leads and things like that; we have to be out there on the social platforms where they are producing the right content. And then when they are on that platform, so just to get tactical like let’s say Twitter, they see an article that we have shown up there that is sitting on a Dell platform. Then what we find is they will click through, they will read content on a platform that we may own, and then they see that there is a whole bunch of other content surrounding that experience; and they will many times cruise to that content and then a higher percentage of them will keep coming back to see the content. And then what happens is that when they are ready to kind of say okay this is really interesting, I’ve been looking at this content for a certain amount of time; I really want to see what Dell has to offer or what Dell’s specific offering or positioning in this space. And many times they will move into and is our traditional vehicle by which we kind of talk about our portfolio of what we offer and why we are good. But, you know the problem, the thing there is that, or any dot com platform, is more of a late stage process where they already know who they are interested in. They want to know specifically what you offer. But unless you have to do all that upfront work with thought leadership content, going where they are and them bringing them into your ecosystem, you have to do all that upfront to acquire new customers and then get your brand further and then bring them to your platform. And then once they’re on your platform, any of your platforms, then you have obviously a lot of opportunities to optimize how you do lead gen, optimize how you do nurturing through your marketing automation etc. And so that is kind of the way we think about it. It’s not linear anymore, but it is more of kind of bringing them into the ecosystem. Work them in your ecosystem whether it’s digital or Eloqua or something else, and get them to become a highly qualified lead that you can handoff to the sales team.

Interviewer: Right, I found something very interesting in what you said there in that once you get someone to come and look at some of your content you want help them understand there is other valuable content there, so they not only want to continue perusing while they are there, but they want to come back. And essentially what you are doing is you’re establishing an early-stage relationship when they are in that early part of the buying cycle.

Rishi: And what is interesting about that is that that early-stage content like what we have on Tech Page One is not really – most of it has nothing to do with Dell.

Interviewer: Ah, now we’re talking, okay.

Rishi: Most of it is thought leadership content. You know, where we may bring in a lot of influential people in technology to write for us, or journalists, or bloggers, or we may curate content we deem is really good and push that back out. And then a small percentage of it will be our own content and our own viewpoints that we will put out there. But what is interesting that we found is that when you can provide great content to your customers, even if it’s not yours, and even if it’s simply taking content already existing and pushing it back out to them telling them it’s good content, and they keep coming back and they find value from that then you earn the right to provide your own content back into that platform. So in the old world, your pushing stuff out to them whether it’s a banner ad or whatever, and they are doing something and they get interrupted by you, or you hope you interrupt them, and they come into your world. In the new world they come into your content ecosystem, or whatever you want call it, and they get a lot of value from that and then they give you permission to talk about yourself. So that is the new world we’re in.

Interviewer: Yes so I’m really glad you brought that up, because one of the things we see over and over again is companies struggle with how to not talk about themselves; and how to focus on the buyers pain points they care about. So tell me how do you direct content to insure that it’s actually highly relevant content to the potential buyers?

Rishi: It’s quite hard. It’s very hard and I would argue that that is one of the hardest things in this whole discussion to do. And what I would say there is it’s all experimentation.

Interviewer: Okay, interesting tell me about that.

Rishi: Yes, so when we launched Tech Page One, which is just newly sent, it’s fresh, we launched with a certain belief on the mix of content, context type, content format and topics. And then what we do is, based on what people are interacting with and what’s happening, we can optimize that mix real time to see if it improves our outcomes, or improves readership or loyalty or whatever. And I think, ultimately, that is the way you have to do it, is just get it out there, see what happens and then optimize and optimize. So it has only been out there – I think like we did a very like quiet launch back in December, January, so it hasn’t been that long and we haven’t really done any promotion yet. And I would say even three, four, five months into this we haven’t figured out the right mix yet, but were getting there and were seeing the numbers improve quite a bit. So I think that’s the way to do it. Just do it and then optimize. Now, so that’s the way you do it, but obviously for that initial launch we’re constantly pulling on our experts within Dell who understand customers, who talk to customers all the time, to help us understand how customers think when they’re on a journey, the hierarchy of messaging etc. That helps us a lot to drive it, but ultimately, it’s experimentation.

Interviewer: That’s great, that’s great, so I would imagine you have a lot of measurement and analytics focused on what’s happening with your content so that you can understand the results of those experiments.

Rishi: Yes, absolutely, absolutely, and one thing I will say there too is that as a company the topics that you think about as a company are almost always your perspective on what you do. So every company has a differentiated perspective you know that they use to differentiate themselves in the marketplace and differentiate messaging behind that, and subsequently differentiate content. The challenge becomes that perspective may or may not be what customers are searching for on the web right?

Interviewer: Right.

Rishi: So that’s a complication and pain point that many digital marketers face. It’s that on the one hand you want to make sure you get your perspective out there and your messaging and all that, but that may not be always look customers are searching for how they’re searching for on the web. So you have to do this delicate dance of making sure you create content so that it shows up when customers are searching on it in social, or Google or wherever. At the same time you have to push your messaging out at some point to. That’s the challenge right?

Interviewer: Delicate balance. So talk to me about a very important step here which is moving from enabling someone to visit your content, and gain some value from your content; to actually moving them into the funnel by having them become a lead, a marketing qualified lead. How do you make that step?

Rishi: So the key thing there is to – so on a basic level you should be merchandising lead gen everywhere possible, everywhere you can humanly do it. So they always have the option to do that. So that is at a basic level. But, the key thing is to look at the process by which customers are consuming content and make sure you merchandise lead gen at the point where they will be ready to talk to you, your sales team.

Interviewer: How about giving an example do you have one you can share with us?

Rishi: Yes, so an example would be once you get them to where we’re talking about what we do – it is all about us, us, us. And we talk about our perspective, and we talk about our differentiated why we are better than everyone else.

Interviewer: Which is okay because I expect that when I visit there.

Rishi: Yes exactly, and we talk about why what we believe customers should be doing right? It may not be about us specifically, but it may be it’s our perspective on the industry and how to succeed which may be different from what our competitors would do. So we know that once we’re within that ecosystem then they are very rich for converting to a lead. So when I think about my lead gen team and my lead gen investments I’m going to make sure that I hit that property first, because I know I’m hitting them right when they’re ready or getting close to ready to talk to Dell and talk to a salesperson. So the key is to step back strategically, to answer your question, here are all the content platforms that have. Let’s line it up against where customers are on their journey when they hit that platform, hit that content. Let’s figure out which content and which platform is at the right stage where they’ll be ready and willing and wanting to talk to a salesperson. And let’s make sure we have completely and utterly optimized the lead gen forms, fragments, assets on that platform.

Interviewer: All right good, so talk to me about – you used the word experiment which I think is a pretty important phrase here; so share with us some things that you tried that didn’t work. We can always learn – you can learn a lot from what didn’t work?

Rishi: So a few things. One is that, as I said, like Tech Page One for example. We didn’t come out of the gate with the right mix of content. We probably went too much on the kind of the cool, tech, geeky type content and not enough on the kind of hard-core like technology, thought leadership content. And so again, that brought in a different mix of people than we wanted, so we shifted that content mix and then we started getting the right mix of people that we wanted, and the right outcomes things like that. So that is an example of you may go out with the wrong mix that attracts the wrong type of people and you have to quickly adjust. So I think that’s one example of things that we learned very quickly through experimentation.

Interviewer: That’s a good example. Tell me a little bit about, I’m going to call it the digital buyer’s journey. You have some certain assumptions when someone downloads specific information or visit certain pages on your site. But how do you – is it a simple matter of scoring based on what they do? And how do you take your best guess at what content you should be feeding up if you think I’m at a certain point in the sales cycle?

Rishi: Yes, so I think scoring is a big element. I think understanding the end-to-end analytics is key. So what I mean by that is understanding what set of activities customers go on that eventually leads to a conversion to direct pipeline. Many times people just use what I call last click attribution right? Like I got a lead and here’s the last thing they did. The problem in the B2B world is that sales cycles are long. They’re going to look at a bunch of stuff over a long period of time before they become a lead, or they may even just go directly to sales at some point. So it is important to have an end-to-end analytic view on all the different types of activities that go on that lead eventually to a pipeline; and then be able to look at that and say, okay, that tells me the value of different steps, different platforms, different content and how I optimize that. So there is that that is very sophisticated, but at even a most basic level just looking at taking the platforms you have; being very clear on the role of those platforms, seeing they are achieving that. So an example I’ll give is like let’s say you do a – you build a thought leadership platform. It would be wrong to measure that based on lead gen, as customers going to that platform are not looking for leads. But, you may look at it as, well is it eventually feeding my downstream properties? Are people coming back without me having to pay? Are people sharing content so it goes viral and have more people come in without having them pay? Am I getting new people, new companies all that kind of stuff is a metric you should use and you can use it at the detailed content by content level.

Interviewer: That makes sense thank you, thank you. Let me ask you one more question if you don’t mind.

Rishi: Sure.

Interviewer: So you were just talking about measuring and using content let’s call it at the beginning of the sales cycle from a leadership context. What if we go to the other end of the sales cycle? So, marketing has said, hey here is a lead. Sales accepts the lead and now it’s being handled by the sales organization. What is the role, in your opinion, of marketing and content marketing specifically, to help the sales organization once they’ve taken on that opportunity?

Rishi: Oh it is huge. So there is obviously a sales enablement piece. So you want to make sure that you are providing your sales team with development content based on the lead that they’re getting so that they can be successful. There is properties that help sales close deals faster. So for example, our tech center property has been very effective in helping our sales teams move opportunities from evaluation to closing or to further down; even after the lead is generated and while they’re working the account themselves. In fact, they’re so successful that salespeople many times will send the customers back into our communities where our experts are while they’re in the sales cycle. Those are content rich communities where our experts are, where they’re engaging with customers and things like that. So I think these properties, the content etcetera, can play a very strong role in helping push the sales cycle forward. And also even when sales teams are prospecting, or going after accounts, enabling them with great content so they can send it to their accounts and sounds smart and continue the conversation and keep at the top of the mind their name and everything is very effective as well.

Interviewer: That’s great and I will tell you I think you guys are very advanced when it comes to your connection with the sales organization. That makes a tremendous amount of sense. A lot of companies just aren’t there yet, but if they are leveraging the content you’re creating in the platforms you’re using in the sales cycle then I think that’s proof of the value of the content marketing you’re driving.

Rishi: Yes, and I think the biggest challenge all B2B companies with big direct sales forces are facing now is how do you make your sales team themselves become social sellers right?

Interviewer: Oh a whole new topic to I would love to chat with you.

Rishi: Whole new topic, whole new topic, but I think when you think about the new, the toughest challenges, that is one of the top challenges you have to completely shift sales force culture. And there’s a lot of data out there that says that the new type of salesperson who uses things like social, LinkedIn etc, they are much more productive, they close more deals, they hit their quotas faster all that, but how do you scale that, that’s hard.

Interviewer: Yes.

Rishi: Whole new topic.

Interviewer: I love that topic. I could talk for hours about it. Well Rishi we’re out of time believe it or not. I have a lot of other questions for you but I think we should wrap up as we’ve covered a lot of material in a short period of time here. So thank you very much I appreciate you joining us and I will wrap up.

Rishi: Thank you. Thank you very much and thank you for having me I really appreciate it.