I recently sat down with Sean Blackburn of Sweet Fish Media to discuss buyer enablement in this crazy time of B2B marketing.
Think about how much things have changed in the B2B space. When marketing automation hit the scene a couple decades ago, B2B marketing experienced an age of enlightenment. It was the first time marketers had access to and control of their own data. Fast forward to today, and we’ve entered what I like to refer to as ‘The Golden Age’ of B2B Marketing. We’ve now built giant tech stacks with sophisticated capabilities. And we have access to more rich data than ever before. Yet, still, somehow B2B marketers are falling short of their buyer’s expectations.
In this episode of The B2B Growth Podcast, I dive into why this is and how to shift your focus to meet the rising demands of the modern Netflix-watching, Amazon-shopping B2B buyer.
Sean Blackburn: Welcome back to the B2B Growth Show, I’m your host for today’s episode, Sean Blackburn with Sweet Fish Media. I’m joined today by Elle Woulfe and she is the VP of Marketing over at PathFactory. Elle, how are you doing today?
Elle Woulfe: I’m doing good, thanks for having me.
Sean Blackburn: It’s great to have you on the show. Excited to talk about what we are unpacking today, which is enabling B2B buyers to learn and buy on demand. Before we jump into that though, if you could just give our listeners a little bit of background about yourself and what you guys do over at PathFactory?
Elle Woulfe: I’d love to. So my background’s primarily in demand generation. I’ve worked in B2B marketing technology for quite a while. I was on the demand gen team at Acquia back before they were acquired. And then I did a stint at Lattice Engines, also a Martech vendor, for a couple of years there building out demand gen. And I’ve been at PathFactory for almost four years. My first time getting to run the show and getting to use other parts of my brain. And and so it’s been a really exciting time to be at a growth stage with a company out of Toronto. I personally sit outside of Boston, Massachusetts.
And we’re a Content Insight and Activation platform. What that means is we help our customers, who are our marketers, create marketing experiences that are more on-demand for their buyers. That help to enable buyers as they move through the purchase process. So really, the ability to surface the right information to the right person at the right time. To remove friction from that buying process and to make sure they always get the next best thing that they need. And to provide marketers with a lot of insight into how marketers are actually consuming content along the path to purchase. So that’s kind of what we do in a nutshell.
Sean Blackburn: Fantastic. Speaks a lot to our subject that we’re talking about today and one of the main things that marketers are having to deal with is just how much has changed within the buying process for B2B buyers. Especially in recent years, if you could maybe just speak a little bit about kind of what you see as the overall state of B2B buyers?
Elle Woulfe: Yeah sure. I mean I think one of the things that’s shaped the B2B buying experience is just the expectations that buyers bring with them when they’re trying to research and purchase things. And that all actually comes from our consumer lives. We’ve gotten used to experiences in our personal lives that are very much on demand. So whether that’s being able to order something from Amazon and have it arrive the next day, get your groceries delivered through Instacart, or probably the best example, log into Netflix and have a whole set of really curated recommendations based on your past history. We want things to be fast. We want them to be easy. And we want them to be hyper-relevant. That’s the other part of it.
The reason why Netflix works the way that it does is that they know everything about how you’re consuming content on their platform: which shows you love, what you’ve binged, how long you’ve watched for, if you tend to have a heavy preference for one actor or one director. Their algorithms then respond in kind to deliver a recommendation to you that’s really tailored to what you’d be interested in. And what they’re great at is surfacing content that you probably wouldn’t have found otherwise.
So we bring all this baggage when we go to our B2B lives to make a purchase. We want that same kind of relevance and curation and responsiveness. And unfortunately, B2B marketing and sales processes just don’t really work that way. Even with all the advances that we’ve seen in personalization and things like ABM getting to be a big deal. These help us to be a little bit more relevant to the buyer, but they kind of fail to look at the individual buyer.
Every single buyer is different. They’re at a different stage of the journey. They need something different. They’ve consumed different things. I think B2B marketing has struggled to catch up to the experience the buyer expects when we’re trying to purchase something.
Sean Blackburn: That makes sense. So what are some of those common struggles that you have seen B2B brands struggle with? Maybe they’re trying or maybe they’re not even trying to present any sort of specific experience to their customer.
Elle Woulfe: Sure. So I’m just going to say first of all because it feels like I’m disparaging B2B marketers. But it’s not our fault. We’ve been sort of painted into this corner. Think back almost 20 years ago, which I think is sort of the enlightenment of B2B marketing, when marketing automation became a big thing. That was the first time marketers had control of their own data. They had their own tools and platforms and it was somewhat integrated. They could sort of flow data from one place to another and see what had happened. They had a little bit of insight into what people were clicking on, so that was really revolutionary. And we have to think about it this way: We sell to companies but we market to people. And so that means there’s a lot of people–if you think about buying committees–potentially involved in purchasing something.
There’s almost an infinite number of buyer’s journeys out there. You never know where your buyers going to surface, what they’ve already consumed, what they’ve already read, what the next thing is they’re looking for. It’s really hard for a marketer to anticipate what they need to deliver to be really helpful in that exact moment.
And so I think what we’ve done in this sort of golden age of B2B marketing with all these great tools and technology. We’ve acquired more stuff, we’ve built these big tech stacks. We’ve added great capabilities to our marketing teams, and we’ve done all of this to try to orchestrate the best that we can this buyer’s journey. To try to anticipate what those buyers going to need and where they’re going to need it and what’s the next place that they’re going to pick their head up.
And again if you think about the infinite number of possibilities of all those different buyers at all those different stages of the journey, all needing something different. I mean, we’re all sort of backed into a corner where we can have ABM as part of our strategy. We can have great personalization and do all of that stuff and still for all of that, we’re only probably going to satisfy 5% of the buyers. Like that thing we deliver is only going to be relevant to 5% of the people. So it’s a challenge in just tactical execution.
I mean I think if you go back to the Netflix example, what makes that work is the reason why when I log on to Netflix. I see what I see and you see what you see and all the millions of people see what they see and it’s relevant to them. It’s because Netflix knows everything about what they’ve already done. And that’s the sort of the pain point for B2B marketers, and most marketers today. Sure, they know that people are clicking on stuff, maybe they’re filling out forms, they really have no idea, did they read that last ebook? Did they click through the last email but never really have time to actually view this thing?
The struggle begins with not really having good insight into where people are on the journey. What they’ve consumed and what they need to see next.
Sean Blackburn: Yeah, so we’ve defined the problem quite well. How is it that you and the team at PathFactory help B2B brands with this challenge?
Elle Woulfe: I mean you know, look our belief here is that in order for B2B marketing to move to the next era… if this has been the modern marketing era, the next era of marketing is going to be the performance marketing era. It’s going to be how do we take all these tools and all this data and all this stuff we’ve been collecting, and really put it to use in service of the buyer?
I think so much of what we’ve been doing in B2B marketing has been a little inward focused. Look, I know conversion rates in my funnel like off the back of my hand. I know what the last click-through rate was on a campaign like I know all this stuff, but that’s about me. My buyer doesn’t care about that. And so I think what we’ve been trying to do with all the orchestration, it has been to try to serve the buyer. But we really, really need to think, we just need to put them at the center of every strategy. If we’re going to deliver that seamless customer experience, we need to be prepared to treat every buyer like an individual and to meet them where they are.
It begins with data. You send out an email to 1,000 people and you can see that they all clicked through and filled out the form. But the person who spent 15 minutes reading that great piece of content and the person who spent 10 seconds are telling you something very, very different about where they are in their journey. And until you can detect that, it’s going to be really hard for you to react and recommend the next thing.
What we aim to help our customers do at PathFactory, is exactly that. Understand how are people consuming the information that they’re delivering. What is the quality of those interactions? Armed with that kind of data, now you can start to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to deliver a recommendation in real time. That’s just what Netflix does. So that means whether I’m me or you’re you, the next best thing that we are offered is the next best thing for us. Not for a big bucket of people like us. We’ve tried to put our buyers into buckets and cohorts and segments and target them with relevant things, but we still are lumping them all together instead of treating them as individuals and really reacting to where they are.
It starts with better data. It starts by looking beyond what people are clicking on to really understand the quality of those content interactions. Because content is how people buy.
It’s consuming content– whether it’s content that you’ve created or analyst reports, or customer reviews on third party review sites. This is the stuff that shapes a purchase decision. We’ve got to get better at detecting where those really deep signals of intent are. And then put them to work to really help that buyer get the next best thing they need to move through the journey.
Sean Blackburn: That’s a powerful mind shift that you described. The inward focus versus the buyer focus. And I think a lot of times we’re trying but I think you’re absolutely right; a lot of our attempts at this have been how can we do our job better almost as far as how can we deliver better content to people. Are there any examples that you have maybe from either your team at PathFactory or a client that you guys have worked with where this has been something that you’ve helped them with? That sort of transformational mind shift, delivering these better content experiences?
Elle Woulfe: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean its something that my team has adopted 100%. And it’s actually funny, when I met the co-founders of what was then LookBook HQ (we rebranded back in May to PathFactory) almost four years ago and saw where they were headed with what they were trying to do, it solved a problem that I as a marketer had had for a long time.
It’s almost so tragic that I was going to spend all this money to get someones attention and to get them to click on something. And then I would have them for a minute and then just let them go. And that meant that now I’ve got to get them to click on the next thing. I’ve got to get them into my nurture and get them to engage there. And it was just like you’ve got to re-earn attention over and over and over again.
So when I saw what these guys were building, I was like “wow, this is something I’ve needed for a long time!” The way that my team thinks about it is for every single engagement we have with a buyer we should make the most of it. And so, that starts by delivering the most relevant recommendation for content that we can. But also delivering it in a format that allows them to binge, just like again you would on Netflix. Instead of for each one touch, you’re handing that person a single piece of content. While you’ve got their attention and they’re in the throes of trying to do some research, deliver as much relevant information as possible to allow them to move through it. Don’t have them hunting on your website or looking for that next best thing. So part of it is a content sequencing and packaging approach that we take across every single channel and program we run. It is just how we deliver content. Our content is activated across every channel.
And we have a lot of customers who start out in one area like email nurture. They see they can get somebody to click through and, knowing the journey they want to take them on, can see how they can make that go faster. They can deliver more content for each touch. And they might start with nurture, and then the next thing you know, they’re going “gosh I could extend this to my display programs.”
I actually had the pleasure of introducing and moderating for a customer presentation last week by TIBCO. They started out adopting us in that way. First for email nurture, and then looking at individual programs. And they’ve just actually launched using PathFactory for their ABM programs as a way to surface the most relevant content for individual accounts. And really making use of existing content that they had to package that up into journeys for those really valuable accounts. When they get someone to engage through a display channel or an email they now let that buyer consume as much relevant information as possible because they know getting that attention again might be difficult.
[TIBCO] has seen dramatic increases in how people engage with content. Just letting them have more content per click you’re going to get better engagement. People move through the funnel much faster. And you nurture faster because you’re not dragging the buyer’s journey out. You’re not making that person hunt around for that next thing. It’s just there for them.
I mean the reason we binge on Netflix or the reason why you watch a million cat videos on YouTube is because of the way they deliver that content. It’s designed to keep you engaged. It’s hyper-relevance paired with an experience that allows you to just consume as much as you want in-the-moment. And the next thing you know, you’ve squandered your whole afternoon. Your B2B buyers will do the same thing if they’re really engaged.
Sean Blackburn: Man, what a powerful thing if someone had squandered their whole afternoon consuming your content on your product.
Elle Woulfe: Well and we joke about it right, but it’s such a strong signal because here’s the deal.
Think about somebody who comes and spends time reading your eBook for a couple of minutes. And like no offense to any B2B marketers out there, but I doubt your content is all that interesting that someone’s doing that just for casual Sunday reading.
When you see a type of consumption pattern, it’s because you’ve got a buyer who’s really engaged. So you know we can help to respond to that buyer and help them do that research. We can also take that insight about how they’re engaging and feed it to a salesperson so they can take action on it when we know somebody’s really showing that sign of intent.
Sean Blackburn: Man I love that. Well Elle, this has been a great conversation. Thanks so much and I love your perspective on how to enable B2B buyers to learn and buy on demand. If anybody’s listening and they’re curious more about how to create their content in this way or they just want to connect with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Sean Blackburn: Perfect. Well Elle, I really thank you for being on the show and appreciate your perspectives.
Elle Woulfe: Thank you so much. It was great to be here.