In B2B Marketing: Tomorrow’s Best Practices Today, we feature expert interviews about the state of B2B Marketing and what the future holds. In this post, I interview Tony Yang, VP of Marketing at Qordoba.
Tell us about yourself?
I am the VP of Marketing at Qordoba, an AI-powered content intelligence platform. Basically, we help digital content teams at companies like VISA, Marriott, and Postmates take control of content and produce impactful copy at scale for better user experience.
Note: Follow Tony on Twitter: @tones810.
On one side, the platform becomes your single source of truth for all product UX content–kind of like a CMS for UX copy.
On the other, you’re able to maintain content consistency with your brand’s tone of voice by scoring content against your company’s content style guide, which measures against criteria such as formality, clarity, emotional range, gender biases, brevity, reading level, etc.
This is done via AI, natural language processing (NLP) and natural language generation (NLG). Outside of my day job, I serve as a mentor at a couple of startup accelerators here in the SF Bay Area, including Alchemist Accelerator, GSV Labs, and GrowthX Academy.
Tell us about your background in B2B marketing?
My entire career has primarily been in B2B marketing, starting all the way back when I worked as a marketing manager for IBM’s global services division out in Beijing, China. This was during the time when IBM acquired PriceWaterhouseCoopers Consulting, which was rolled into IBM’s overall IT services and consulting practices.
On a side note, my first project at IBM was to help roll out an ASP (application service provider) offering to specific technology parks in China. ASP can be considered the precursor to what we know as SaaS (software as a service) today. So I’ve pretty much been in B2B SaaS since the early days — I guess I may have dated myself a bit here!
After my time at IBM China, I moved back to California to attend business school at USC and got married! Then, I decided to move up to Silicon Valley to work at a startup. Other than a year-long stint as an independent marketing consultant where I worked on various projects for Microsoft, most of my time in the past 12 years has been in startup world — all B2B SaaS startups.
I’ll also add that all of the startups I’ve been a part of have been pretty early stage, where I was employee #4 or #5 and the only marketer in 70-80 employee companies. Because of this, I had to be both a generalist and an expert to help companies scale and grow. As you can imagine, practicing marketing at startups is very different than what I was doing at IBM!
What’s a best practice that B2B marketers should move on from?
Well, I wouldn’t say that this is a practice that B2B marketers should move away from, but something that really irks me is when people say that Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is synonymous with B2B marketing today.
That is simply not true because ABM does not apply to all B2B marketers. ABM is a strategic approach to engaging with enterprise prospects where focusing your efforts, resources and budget makes more sense to a set list of high-value target accounts.
Note: Read a related post, “How Social Media Helps You Optimize Account-Based Marketing.”
In contrast, I used to work at a startup that sold a SaaS offering to primarily SMBs where our most popular plan was $150-$500 per month. We took a freemium/free-trial customer acquisition approach where the name of the game was to get top-of-the-funnel volume and do deep cohort analyses.
We focused on converting through the freemium experience in an automated way, while having sales reps cherry-pick the larger-sized companies that came through.
The sales motion for the latter scenario didn’t include pure outbound and the sales cycle was a lot faster than what you would consider an enterprise sale. In this case, an ABM approach wouldn’t have made economic sense for us, which is probably true for other B2B companies that sell lower-end, transactional type of offerings.
Tell us a best-practice-of-tomorrow that B2B marketers should be doing today?
There’s no doubt that some of the most successful B2B marketers today are the ones who focus on building revenue and pipeline, and work as partners with their sales counterparts instead of as separate silos.
I don’t think the concept of this is new, but the operationalizing of this is a trend I’m starting to see more of now.
For example, it’s becoming more common to see the sales development and business development (SDR/BDR) teams rolling up into the marketing organization. Revenue operations is an emerging function that spans across marketing ops, sales ops and even post-sale customer success.
It’s crucial for marketing to at least have visibility on the full revenue spectrum and customer journey, if not outright owning the revenue ops function. As the VP of marketing at my last company, I managed the SDR team and also had a director of revenue operations reporting to me; however, our marketing team rolled up under the chief revenue officer (CRO).
That org structure made a lot of sense to us and I imagine that this may be a trend we’ll see across other B2B organizations.
The B2B buyer seems more elusive than ever. What are some tricks you can share with our readers?
As a VP of marketing for SaaS products, I’ve been on both sides of the table. I believe one of the most important things to get right is to use plain language to describe the problem that you solve for and the value that you can bring — instead of talking about your technology and feature set.
The tendency is to use the hottest buzzwords like AI or ABM or blockchain by slapping it on your website and sales materials (I’m waiting for a company crop up and say that they are an “AI-powered blockchain platform for ABM!”).
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been pitched by a martech vendor or visited a website where I walked away not knowing what it is they do, and more importantly, how they can help me with my set of challenges. All I hear is a bunch of buzzwords that 20 other vendors also use.
In heavily saturated markets like marketing technology (we’ve all seen the martech landscape supergraphics from Scott Brinker and from LUMA Partners), things become to all sound the same.
Do yourself and your prospects a favor by watching Simon Sinek’s TED talk. Don’t focus on the “What” or the “How.”
Instead, start with answering the “Why” question – and if the answer to the “Why” is aligned to the pain point, then that will get your prospect’s attention.
And if you must give an elevator pitch that speaks to the “What” and the “How,” at least follow up by telling a story to illustrate the “Why” that your prospect can identify with.
What’s an area of B2B demand generation that marketers are overlooking?
I believe B2B demand gen people tend to focus too much on the channels and tactics. While these are important elements, we can’t forget the basics around understanding your target audiences and aligning messaging to where they are in the buyer journey.
Spend time with your product marketers to really dig deep into persona development and identifying your ideal customer profile (ICP). But you can’t stop there — you have to operationalize your personas and ICP by creating message maps to guide each persona down the buyer journey.
Then, you’ll want to work together with product marketing and content marketing to do a content audit and find the gaps in your content that you’ll need to build out. The messaging and content should be the foundation of your demand gen programs.
As part of your persona development, you would have identified the “watering holes” where your target audiences hang out and find solutions to their problems — that will then inform which demand gen channels and tactics to utilize.
What marketing tool has you most excited these days?
Our sales and CS teams at Qordoba uses Gong.io for all customer and prospect-facing calls.
I’ve found this to be extremely useful as a marketer because I can listen to the recordings of these sales calls so that I can better understand the needs of our target market.
In the past, I’ve had to bug our sales reps to remember to invite me to calls with prospects and more often than not they forget to include me. So while Gong.io isn’t technically a marketing tool, I get a lot of value out of it as a marketer.
Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to tell us about B2B marketing?
Something that I’ve learned over the years is the need for marketing to educate internally and manage up. In the past, marketing would be seen as those who simply ran campaigns or become the “short order cooks” for sales and/or the CEO based on what they think marketing should be doing.
If you don’t get ahead of this, you’ll end up doing a lot of “random acts of marketing.” So don’t forget to do marketing on your marketing internally!