Retooling Marketing in a B2B Company

Ping coporate logo 2014Ping Identity has gone through a top to bottom transformation in marketing over the last year. A successful organization that fed impressive growth, reaching growth and revenue records year over year, the marketing organization relied on a proven B2B outbound marketing model that precisely measured lead capture rates.

My interest for the last decade has been in inbound marketing models that rely on content to drive business opportunity. More significantly, I follow the advice of many friends who I would call contemporaries in B2B marketing, like Steve Mann at Lexis-Nexis and Chris Selland at HP-Vertica, who align their marketing demand gen efforts to account-based scoring… opportunities instead of leads.

When you combine inbound marketing with account-based scoring, you get a very potent combination of predictable opportunity funnel that also benefits from lower customer acquisition costs. The latter is essential for on-demand subscription models where customer acquisition costs (CAC) has to be recovered in a short upfront time period, and the former increases the volume of business funnel to work through, again essential in any business that has a wide range of pricing options, from free to enterprise license agreements.

When I took over the team in the 4th quarter of last year I made a couple of quick changes, most significantly breaking up the demand gen team into distinctive task teams focused on net new customers, base expansion, and retention outcomes. The demand center teams would respond to product & solution marketing, as well as partner marketing to drive campaigns, content, events, and interactive (SEO/SEM) for the specific outcome being targeted. We roll this up with a range of sales and marketing operations activities to drive opportunities, which are companies who buy our stuff as opposed to discrete contacts at companies.

I am fortunate to have a data scientist on my team, a PhD in statistics no less, who also has a keen ability to aggregate data from many different sources, from Salesforce to Splunk. We know from this data that there are tipping points that occur in the opportunity (account) scoring that should and do cause additional sales activity. I won’t share the specifics here because they represent hard won intelligence that is a form of IP for us, but I also believe that much of this is actually not easily transferred to another company like us. In other words, each company needs to learn the unique attributes and dynamics of their sales and marketing model rather than simply copying what another company is doing.

Underlying all of our marketing strategy is the notion that we, as a business, have grown in size to the point that we are beyond the point that generalists, high bandwidth people who can do a lot of things well, will serve our growth. We have made a number of changes in the team composition in order to achieve a high degree of specialization in each function… I want the best people at each position in the team. The equation is simple, we use people and systems to feed a data model that we constantly iterate to explain and then predict our performance. 

I saw this fascinating video of a Ferrari F1 pit stop that reminded me of what we are striving to achieve. Each pit crew member has a job and there is no confusion about who is doing what. Notice how the crew members responsible for removing the front wheels know exactly where to place their hands in order to capture the approaching race car… this is the level of specialization that we are building.

The False Dichotomy of B2C and B2B

Ray Wang wrote a summary of CRM Evolution that I found particularly interesting, and one point in particular resonated with me because it aligns to something I have been talking about at Get Satisfaction for a while now… B2B and B2C distinctions are dead.

The segmentation of business (B2B) and consumer (B2C) behaviors is a false dichotomy to begin from, what really matters is the customer lifecycle and renew-ability of the relationship. Is a purchase cycle highly deliberative in nature, does the post transaction phase focus on repetition of purchase or a shift to services and add-ons, how does the retail experience inform purchases, and much more.

Cars and diapers… that’s what I keep thinking about.

A car is one of the major purchases a consumer will make and represents the pinnacle of brand-to-customer lifecycle in the b2c space. It involves peer review, needs assessment, technical evaluation, financing, service agreements… all like B2B as we know it today. Once the transaction is complete the relationship shifts to one of services between the dealer and the customer involving maintenance and accessories and the lifecycle repeats with a lower entry bar at each interaction.

Diapers are a situational purchase that is effectively commodity driven, in spite of diaper manufacturers touting specific feature benefits the fact is that buyers view diapers as fungible. As a result companies are now shifting to marketing the relationship they have with a customer around the journey of newborn to potty training. The entire point of the marketing strategy is to ensure that you reach for Pampers every time you are in the aisle for the 3+ years you will be buying diapers and that is because you trust the brand more than competitive offerings, and interacting with your customer community, wherever it is, is essential for sustaining the customer relationship.

B2B purchases also span the highly deliberative capital expenditure to the fungible commodity and the buying impulses for each map precisely to each end of the spectrum in the consumer space, yet because the person making the purchase has a business card and pays for it with company funds we call it B2B. It doesn’t make sense.

The marketing and sales tactics for B2B and B2C may be different but the point is that thanks to the Internet the differences are now outweighed by the similarities. For software companies the reality could not be more stark, in order to survive and prosper in future years the need to create multiple channels to market that address how SMB buyers are behaving is critical and that means delivering through an e-commerce channel, adopting marketing techniques that are common in the B2C space (ratings/reviews, SEO, promotions), deliver information products, and adopting pricing/packaging strategies that scale from the very small to the very large without becoming overwhelmed time/cost of sales on the very large end of the spectrum.

B2C and B2B is dead.