Outbound calling; social media outreach and scheduling; PPC; SEO; trade shows, email campaigns – kinda sounds like the beginnings of a job listing for every marketers responsibility, doesn’t it?
While that may be true, it’s also the foundation of understanding the relationship between these actions in generating demand for your product and building you brand. These channels all require strategy and optimization to work in harmony with one another. But when there are so many channels that can make or break your marketing efforts, where does one even start?
In this episode of AMP Up Your Digital Marketing, we meet Vivian Gomes, Head of Marketing and Inside Sales for CSS Corp, a technology services firm. His insight tackles why creativity is the genesis of marketing, and why it’s so important to start at the top to satisfy some kind of curiosity of the targeted end user.
Glenn: Welcome back to the show. Today we’re speaking to Vivian Gomes. Vivian, welcome to the show.
Vivian: Hey, Glenn. Thanks for having me here.
Glenn: Vivian, could you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Vivian: Sure. Absolutely. So, I head the Global Marketing and Inside Sales for a company called CSS Corp. We’re a mid-sized IT and technology support services company headquartered out of Milpitas, California but with a presence across five continents. I’ve been here for about three years. Prior to CSS Corp, I have worked with other IT services companies, like Infosys, Genpact, NIIT, and a Bay Area based fintech startup as well. So, totally about 17 years in the IT industry, having played various roles in operations, sales and marketing.
Glenn: You know, it’s interesting because the IT industry has always been a very tough one for marketers to get a hold of. Sales people have tried to call them directly, that usually doesn’t work, so there’s a lot more that marketing has a role to play with, you know, just trying to figure out who they should be going after and what they’re going to say to them? How do you step back and think about the strategy around something like that, particularly in an industry that has so much competition?
Vivian: Oh, absolutely, that’s a great question. So, I think it’s important to understand that in the IT industry and especially the part that I am in, which is services, so we are B2B, and things here are extremely high-touch. So, in our industry there’s no such thing as an impulse purchase, which is pretty much core in the B2C world, right? You’ll serve up an ad, which has an offer, you click on it, you like it, you just buy it, it’s not a high-value purchase, you’re done, instant ROI, right? But that’s not how it works in our world. Things are a lot more complicated. Conversations typically run – sales cycles run from 6 to 12 months. And even within our IT industry, I would say there are two parts to it, you’ve got products and you’ve got services. On products, I would say, the world is a little more finite there in a way because you know what your product does, you know what it can solve. But in services, it’s a lot more complicated. I’ve, by the way, worked in both environments, but in services all that matters is each client is unique, their requirements are unique, the end is more important than the means. Everybody wants to get somewhere and you’ve got to come up with a customized solution for that client. So, it’s a pretty complex world that we are in. So, it’s very important to be able to clearly define your target market. And in our industry, typically organizations don’t have more than maybe 500 to 1,000 companies, that’s your target market, that’s your target audience. And you’ve got to clearly and carefully research that and come up with that list. And then, everything you do should revolve around how you can penetrate in those organizations? And that’s how you, kind of, start with your marketing plan.
Glenn: So, when you have it narrowed down. And for some companies, you know, thinking about a thousand customers is very narrow, and for others, that could be very broad. How do you think about – given that you have a name list essentially – do you start thinking in terms of, oh, well, let’s use an ABM approach to things or is it more about we’re telling a story that’s going to permeate into each individual company or is it just a broader story? So, how do we think about that and then how do we deliver the message?
Vivian: So, I think that’s a good question, again. See, ABM – again, ABM for a thousand companies, I mean, that’s really hard to scale and do it for a thousand companies. ABM – the way I look at it – we do a bit of ABM as well, but that’s more for, like, 25, 30 companies in our environment, it could again differ. And in our ABM, again, is very detailed, we really do a lot of research on every company, there’s a whole manual component involved as well. But I think at the end of the day, it’s identifying which are those hot companies within these thousand, what’s the messaging. So, it’s very important as a marketer, you need to come up with something that’s going to resonate with your audience. Once you have that locked, you got to use various channels to reach out to these thousand companies, you’ve got to figure out where these buyers hang out and reach out to them. And it’s a mix of both traditional, sort of, channels as well as the more digital channels. That’s the way we typically go about it.
Glenn: And so, with that, what channels have you found to be effective?
Vivian: Sure. So, to start with, if I were to look at from a demand generation perspective. I manage an inside sales team as part of the marketing organization. And believe it or not, that’s still alive. So, it’s a very outbound kind of channel. Of course, some people say that the effectiveness has probably gone down a little, because of the advent of some of the other channels around, but it definitely helps. You can call it the sales development reps. Now that’s a pretty strong channel because it allows us to have dedicated bandwidth for a fixed number of organizations and these folks have reached out to these organizations with our messaging. And it’s not always just cold calling, it could be through LinkedIn, it could be through email, various other channels, social and so on. So, that’s one channel. The other channel would be the good old events, the tradeshows. And we do a lot of planning. We don’t do too many of these, but we do a lot of planning for every event. Every sponsored event that we participate in, there’s a lot of effort that goes in before and after the event in terms of figuring out the audience, prescheduling meetings. And by the way a lot of that does involve a digital touchpoint as well. So, for instance, you could do some PPC campaigns to catch hold of people who are searching for the event and getting them to your landing page or doing some email campaigns and so on. So, there’s a lot that comes from events as well. The third channel, I would say, is more on the inbound side. Which is the website itself, we put a lot of effort and put in a lot of SEO on the website to make it intrinsically strong. Again, since we have a pretty targeted kind of an audience, we know what they’re searching on and we want to be there on page one every time they search for anything that we do. So, that’s a pretty strong channel for us in terms of leads and in general for leads as well. And apart from that, there’s a lot of digital marketing, digital targeting. So, targeting through LinkedIn, PPC campaigns – that definitely helps in creating awareness. And then the final thing would be just everything else put together. Direct mail, email, other email campaigns, referrals, partners and all that is, like, the final bucket.
Glenn: So, how does – you’ve got a lot going on. So, you’ve got, on the one hand, a BDR approach where you have people doing selling and digital outreach. How does that tie in to some of the other mediums that you’re using in there? Is there some coordination that you use? Or are the sales folks the tip of the spear and then marketing provides the air cover afterwards or is this all happening at the same time?
Vivian: Yeah. So, I think it’s important to understand that this is not really frontline sales, this is just one level before that. And, yes, you’re absolutely right that there’s a lot of coordination between the marketing campaigns, demand generation teams and the inside sales team. To give you an example, just on the events, like I said, when we have an event, we typically go into any event with about 30, 40 prescheduled meetings. Now, that’s not possible if you do not have the firepower of somebody actually calling and scheduling these kinds of meetings. And marketing can help with the messaging, marketing can help with the research – there’s a lot of research we do, by the way, a lot of social listening. So, for instance, when we identify the people we want to go after, we create profile documents of these people just to understand what are these people up to, what have they been saying out there on the web, in social and so on. And it helps us understand them better. And some of that messaging, by the way, some of that is also available through tools nowadays. I think with the advent AI, there are so many tools available that can get you those talking points that you need with every prospect. And then when you take that and mix it with – and kind of align it with some of this traditional firepower of actually folks calling in, you know, you can make it a fairly personalized interaction whether you’re having it on email or through phone. So, that there’s some level of interest generated for them to have that early – that initial conversation with you.
Glenn: So, how personalized are you able to get? Because I think personalization is one of those areas, everybody would like to do it and they can’t necessarily figure out, how to do it at scale?
Vivian: Well, I think you’ve hit the nail. I think that’s, I would say, something that’s work-in-progress. So, we all want to be as personalized as we can. There are tools out there that allow you to do that. You know, as myself seen, folks reach out to me with these nice little video messages and so on. With a guy holding a little sign with my name on it in the video, it’s so personalized. So, I think modern-day technology is allowing us to do things like this today. But I think we are somewhere in that transitory phase right now in our industry in general where you have these tools and there are so many of them. Somewhere I was seeing that, you know, the tech stack for a marketer today is something like 7,000 different solutions out there. I’m talking about 7,000 SaaS companies, SaaS solutions which are targeted towards, say, the VP of marketing or sales in general. So, there’s a lot of good stuff out there that you can use. But I think at the end of the day, it’s how you kind of merge that with your broader strategy or your traditional firepower. In our industry, it’s this mix which really is a secret to success. You know, just completely leaving it to 100% digital kind of an atmosphere also does not bring in that level of – that human touch that is often needed in our kind of conversations. Because as I said, we’re not selling products, it’s a very different kind of an engagement. When we talk to these folks, they want to understand what’s the level of maturity of our organization, have we worked in complex environments, what’s our operational expertise like, what kind of people capability we have, what kind of skin in the game we can potentially bring in, what kind of commercial models we can propose? So, it’s a pretty complex conversation. They’re trying to size you up. And these conversations, typically when they start, they go on for, like I said, you know, a pretty long time. There are multiple rounds of discussions, there are workshops and you got to really come up with something very, very personalized in terms of a solution for them. As I said, we can partner with anybody out there, any product, we have our own solutions, but we can partner with whatever works for our client, whatever works in their environment. Now, this is a very, very high-touch one-to-one kind of an approach. So, it’s about, you know, merging technology with the traditional approach and getting that mix right. I think that’s what really helps.
Glenn: With personalization, a lot of companies are trying to leverage chat technology and tying in appropriate bots to that, is that something that you’re either using or you’re looking at using?
Vivian: Sure. So, we have actually tried that in the past. It’s useful to a certain extent. Although what we saw is that 90% of the chats were just people looking for a job, so. But you do have – but that is useful, that is something that we’re beginning to look at a little more seriously, especially when you bring in a bot. So, what we’ve done – what we did earlier was, we tried out live chat where we actually had somebody manning it. And the person was really getting frustrated with all these job-related inquiries. But with chatbots out there today, especially for the relatively simpler transactions, I think it is definitely something that can be experimented with. Once again, I think-
Glenn: Yeah, I mean-
Vivian: Yeah, go ahead.
Glenn: Well, I was just going to say, with the bots, anyway, you can do some level of triage to get somebody who is not necessarily looking for a position, you can certainly help them and get them to the right place and then get everybody else to that live person so that they can get a little more personalized.
Vivian: Absolutely. Ultimately that’s the way it’s got to be, you know. Because if you just throw a chatbot at somebody, after some time, you know, it just won’t work out. Ultimately there’s a limit to the kind of questions a bot can answer. So, it’s very important to quickly realize or always have that option to just enable the live chat for somebody when they want it.
Glenn: So, have you found that there’s been a particular type of content that works really well in the IT industry? Is it videos, is it whitepapers? I mean, back in the day when I was selling into IT, I remember whitepapers were the big thing. I’m dating myself now, but maybe they’re still good, I don’t know. What’s kind of the killer content format right now that you all are seeing?
Vivian: Sure. So, I think definitely what we are seeing is a move towards more visual content in general. So, it could be videos, it could be infographics and so on. So, I think there are stacks out there that prove that anything visual has an 80% more chance of being consumed. So, there’s no doubt that, you know, I mean, visual content is the way to go. The other thing is the size of the content. I mean, we are a lot more for nugget-sized content, something that can be consumed in a minute or two, because I don’t think anybody has time more than that. So, the whitepapers are good for hygiene and they need to be available for someone who is in advanced stages of evaluation and so on. You show them some of your whitepaper, definitely helps. But in terms of more at the earlier awareness and consideration kind of stages, I think it’s easier to – and more effective – to serve them something visual, like a small video or an infographic, something that can quickly be consumed and which has pretty much the same impact.
Glenn: Got it. So, when you think about your funnel right now, you’re thinking more visual towards the top and kind of – I’m going to say, more dense towards the bottom, which is more just, yeah, we think in a certain way we’re capable of doing what you need us to do. If you were to look at any part of the funnel right now and if you could only focus on one area to optimize, what would that one area be?
Vivian: So, I would like to actually start right at the top frankly, because I think it’s one of those eternal questions that’s been asked, is marketing an art or a science, right? And I know with recent times, with the advent of these tools and technologies and so on, it’s becoming more of a science. And I’m absolutely for it and I’m with it. I’m a very analytical person. I use a lot of these tools. But I think we’ve got to always do well to remember that, you know, we’ve got to take a step back and see what’s the genesis of it all? At the end of the day, as a marketer, I feel our role is to put content out there that evokes a response in some way or the other, which means it has to be thought through, it has to be creative. Creativity is the genesis of marketing at the end of the day, right. And sometimes we tend to just forget that part and just getting to execution, but remember it’s a very distracted world today. When somebody is browsing through their feed, they’ve little got a nanosecond or a microsecond to look at what you’ve posted out there, you know, and if you – yes, absolutely, and if you cannot capture their attention in that microsecond, you’ve lost them, that’s it, they’re gone, right. So, unless there’s some thought put into your marketing, into your messaging and then expressed in a visual manner that will catch their eye. You know, at the end of the day if that’s not done, you can do anything thereafter, you know, I think that it won’t help. So, it’s important to start at the top, properly have that right strategy, your marketing content has to satisfy some kind of curiosity out there, you gotta have that creative element to it. And then I think once you’ve caught their attention, that’s where you serve them the relevant content. You have a link to something that’s relevant and so on. And I think that definitely- and then it comes down to all the downstream stuff, how you articulate your value propositions, how you are relevant to them? I mean, today, in the IT services world, let me tell you, we are in a state of flux, right. The industry, in general, there’s digital transformation happening across the world, everybody is trying it out and they need a trusted adviser, you know, the first thing you get their attention and then emerge as their trusted, sort of, partner, somebody who can work with them, partner them in their journey. And that’s the kind of content you got to produce further downstream, that helps you get positioned as that trusted adviser.
Glenn: Vivian, if there was one thing that our audience could put into action today, what would that one thing be that would have an impact on the digital marketing?
Vivian: Yeah. So, I think, I would say, it’s got to be – when you plan out your digital marketing campaigns, make sure – as I just said – it’s something it’s creative and relevant. And relevant to the audience and not necessarily just showcasing what you do, it’s got to be relevant for the audience, it’s got to be solving some kind of challenge, it’s got to be hitting at a pain point and that’s the way you devise your content and plan and whatever you do thereafter. And then, we enough tools out there to give you the scale, give you the personalization, but it’s that strategy that you’ve got to hit right at the beginning that will help you hit the nail. It’s so important to get that initial thinking right and then get into all the scaling that you wanted to do.
Glenn: Yeah. And it’s interesting, going back to your earlier statement about, is marketing an art or a science? I’ve always come back to it’s both.
Vivian: Absolutely. I agree.
Glenn: Vivian, thank you so much for being on the show.
Vivian: Thanks so much for having me Glenn, it was a pleasure.
Glenn: If somebody wants to get in touch with you what’s the best way to do that?
Glenn: Fantastic. Thanks so much.
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